Revitalize crusade to stop smoking

by Colby J. Bower – Nov. 16, 2010
Special for the Republic

Thirty-three years after the first Great American Smokeout – a call to quit smoking for a day – putting down the cigarette for 24 hours is not any easier. In 1977, when the American Cancer Society launched this national day of awareness, it was proposed as a challenge to all smokers to quit for one day, in hopes of inspiring a lifelong commitment to being tobacco-free.

Today, we know that while the first 24 hours are tough for smokers, making the change permanently can be difficult without the right combination of counseling support and access to services, including over-the-counter and prescribed medications.

It’s been reported that 70 percent of smokers try to quit at some point in their lifetime, and in Arizona when they do, there is help. The highly addictive nature of commercial tobacco makes it likely that the smoker will make as many as seven attempts to quit before achieving success. Such statistics make it clear that tobacco use is not just a “bad habit.”

Overcoming this addiction can be compared to any other chronic condition, best addressed with advice and intervention from a physician. A doctor is in tune with the health impacts of smoking and on the cutting-edge of treatment options.

Quitting smoking is not easy. Addiction to nicotine is a chronic, relapsing condition. Fewer than 5 percent of smokers who try to quit on their own achieve abstinence for six to 12 months.

This type of access to services and support, when done in conjunction with both nicotine-replacement therapies and prescription smoking-cessation medications, have shown to be effective aids.

It’s important to note that in Arizona, the state’s most economically vulnerable populations, or AHCCCS/Medicaid beneficiaries, can access these services for free. According to the American Cancer Society and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those people carry a significantly higher smoking rate among its members (36 percent nationally) than the national average (21 percent).

Investing in cessation services for everyone makes financial sense. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, comprehensive smoking-cessation benefits cost between $1.20 and $4.80 per person per year. Compare that to the $1,623 spent per smoker per year in excess medical care.

Much has been learned over the past three decades about helping people quit. This Great American Smokeout on Nov. 18 will put what’s been learned to good use.

It will encourage those you know to quit and tell them how to get help; and will help employers consider the return on investment of starting a cessation program for employees.

With annual national costs of more than $167 billion associated with smoking-related illnesses and $3.6 million a day in health-related costs in Arizona, it’s time to put three decades of insight to work.

Colby J. Bower is Arizona director of government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

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